When quick fixes and easy answers failed to have impact, dad Rick Sanchez started to see the bigger picture for his daughter and women in general.
Last Thursday, my daughter called my wife in the middle of the day from an echoing bathroom sobbing uncontrollably. For the umpteenth time in the last two years she was on the receiving end of mean, hurtful, inappropriate speech directed at her, specifically about the way she looks.
When she entered History class on Punk Rock Day during Spirit Week she was taunted. She had her hair teased up, blacked out eye makeup, purposefully highlighted high, dark cheekbones.
“What is that?” from several of her classmates greeted her.
She told my wife she stopped, looked at them in the eye one by one, said nothing, then turned around and walked out.
The teacher, a substitute, did nothing. She said nothing to the boys. She did not run after her to ask where she was going. She did not create a referral. We would later find out that the only thing she did do was mark my daughter tardy for the day, causing her to be called out a few days later for detention.
My wife was unable to pick her up, so she composed herself and went back to the class. She was able to finish out the day, but she felt like shit.
When I got home, we talked about what happened and as we spoke she became more and more agitated, finally breaking down again uncontrollably.
Part of this breakdown was my fault because I told her that I didn’t want her hiding in a bathroom after assholes decided to be mean to her. I told her that if it ever happens again, she needs to go DIRECTLY to the office and file a formal complaint. I told her she needs to make sure that these guys are properly dealt with.
She sobbed and screamed through tears, “IT”S NOT THAT EASY!”
And I responded, “It is that easy. You walk out, and instead of walking to the bathroom to cry, you walk to the office and file a report.”
She told me I just didn’t get it…
And the truth is, didn’t. It’s not ‘just that easy.’
I am a 50 year old man who has self esteem built up already.
I am fully aware of my value as a person and I don’t allow anyone to speak to me disrespectfully.
I understand that when people lash out with vanity related insults it usually means they are hurting and felling bad about themselves on the inside.
I am not scathed by insults about how I look because I know that my worth isn’t based on it.
But my 15-year-old daughter is none of those things…yet.
She is wonderful and talented and special and beautiful and caring and thoughtful and witty and sweet and many other things. Also, she is still a developing young lady and isn’t done growing up yet. She has pimples and may carry a few extra pounds. She is a tad insecure at times. She self-evaluates constantly. She is into some alternative activities, like Cosplay, and loves to experiment with new makeup choices and hairstyles. She is questioning many things about herself as a 15 year old. She isn’t completely sure who she is or what she stands for. She doesn’t see all of her talents clearly yet. She will…but not yet. She’s barely 15…
The following day she went to the counselor’s office to file a complaint. After hearing what happened he sent her to the administrator who had her write out a statement. They went over it together and my daughter was assured that action would be taken.
The next period she was pulled out of class by a teacher she didn’t know. The teacher had seen her crying yesterday, wondered what was going on and wanted to check to make sure everything was ok.
The period after that, she was pulled out again, this time by a teacher she does know (and loves.) The first teacher had told her because they are friends. They walked around campus and this teacher reinforced how awesome she is!
This bullying behavior went on all last year, her freshman year, and because of it, she felt pretty shitty most of the time. She filed complaint after complaint, but no real action had been taken. We assured her it wouldn’t happen at all this year. And now it had.
Friday night, I asked my daughter how the day went and she said it was ok, but weird.
“Weird?” I asked.
“It’s difficult to explain. I did like you said. I went to the office. I told them what happened. They took all the information, the names, the witnesses, substitute teacher’s name. They said they would look into it. But the more the day went on, the worse I felt.
People kept asking me what happened and they all cared…but it made me feel horrible. I kept having to tell people about how I was treated badly and couldn’t do anything about it. I kept having to tell the story of me being a victim. Of being helpless to defend myself…”
She trailed off in tears.
All I could do was hold her and tell her it would be ok. But I’m not sure it will.
Because this is how it starts…This is how it starts for millions of women each year.
News hit last week about Donald Trumps poor behavior toward women. He is accused of assaulting some, speaking in misogynistic ways about others, kissing some against their will.
And questions come up about the timing of the accusations.
“Why now, after all these years?”
Last night at the debate, he said maybe they were looking for their 15 minutes of fame.
The hashtag #WhyWomenDontReport popped up in response to the question of why it took so long for them to come forward. The answers are difficult for most men to understand, but women understand quite clearly, even at 15.
She sobbed and screamed through tears, “IT”S NOT THAT EASY!”
I think I understand just a little better now. I understand after trying to console a 15 year old girl who had been publicly humiliated by a group of teenage boys. I unsterstand, now that I tried to comprehend how it must have felt to have to relive that pain over and over each time she told the story. I understand because I realized I could not save her from that pain. I understand because I realized I was partly to blame by telling her how easy it was to just go to the office instead of the bathroom. I understand because I tried to make it out to be NO BIG DEAL.
“IT”S NOT THAT EASY!”
It is a big deal. And dealing with this big deal starts now, at 15, when she is being called ugly. It starts now when we start to realize that we are shaping the minds and behaviors of girls who become women. It starts now when we show bullied teens how we respond to their claims.
- Do we take them seriously?
- Do we have a zero tolerance policy?
- Do we model correct behavior?
- Do we minimize?
- Do we victim blame?
- Do we rationalize?
- Do we make them re-live the event over and over?
- Do we tell them “It’s no big deal?”
- Do we tell them to put their big girl panties on?
- Do we tell them it’s just “locker room” talk?
- Do we tell them “Boys will be Boys?”
I am not sure we can ever completely eradicate bullying behavior and mean talk, but we can certainly show bullied kids how we will respond to their claims.
We can certainly show them that we stand with them.
We can certainly teach them, through our behavior, that reporting is ok, and safe.
We can certainly shield them from having to live through the ordeal over and over by having them retell the tale multiple times.
And most of all, we can certainly hold accountable the kids who haven’t learned that laughing and pointing, calling names and sneering in disgust are reprehensible behaviors that have the ability to hurt and scar people from the inside. We have the ability to make sure that kids that behave like that never win.
Women find it really difficult to come forward and report inappropriate language, abuse, violence, assault and even rape sometimes because we have taught them it doesn’t matter that they reported, because we taught them that many times nothing will be done about it. We made it so difficult for them to report because we taught them that we will made excuses for the poor behavior. And we started teaching them that it was difficult and fruitless a long, long time ago.
It is time to start teaching them something different.
And it starts now, at 15.
It should have been started years ago.